Because bromeliads are evergreen and look good all year round it seems slightly odd to post about still more when there is so much happening in the garden but since the billbergia posts have stimulated some interest, here are a few more. And besides, I have always liked bromeliads. In fact, in a previous life I briefly worked with them, in a way, at a nursery that specialised in tillandsias, specifically the ones that don’t need any soil and can be glued onto wood, shells, coral etc. Known as airplants, they were popular for a while and I see they are still for sale, at the time of writing even on TV shopping channels, though they are not very often seen in garden centres.
These particular tillandsias have roots that only hold them onto a support, to keep them in the light and air. If they were to fall from their perches into the dark they would die. In the wild they grow in the upper branches of trees, on rocks and even on cacti and most have silvery scales on their leaves to protect them form intense sun and they absorb moisture and nutrients through their leaves. In the home they need a bright, airy spot and must be kept away from aerosols or they suffocate in hairspray or polish.
One advantage to them, as houseplants, is that they grow slowly and, if they die as they inevitably do, you can’t easily tell until they fall apart! It tends to make them less than exciting though.
The most common is T. ionantha (ionantha means violet) and it is possibly the easiest. It has almost sessile flowers that are quite large and showy and, rather unusually for these tillandsias, but common among other genera, the leaves change colour as the flowers open, to maximise the attractant effect to polinators.
Most other species have flower scapes that hold the flowers above the rosettes of foliage. And some have really spectacular flower stems as well as pretty flowers.
Tillandsia bulbosa and T. butzii are among my favourites because of the swollen (but hollow) leaf bases – that look as though they should be colonised by ants – and green, whirly leaves, that have a vaguely octopus look before they finally flower – and then, of course, die.
Favourite though must be Tillandsia caput-medusae (meaning mudusa’s head) which is a robust plant with silvery scales and a really other-worldly look. Tillandsias, like all bromeliads, are New World plants and they are from Central America. The other common species is T. cyanea which is a compact plant with a large, oval, flattened, pink inflorescence from which pop a succession of relatively large, three-petalled violet flowers. It grows in compost.